In our study of James chapter five, we look at the difference between hope in God and hope in things of this world.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.
James gets your attention right out of the gate. To begin, we must examine who he is talking about and understand that, in James' time, there was no middle class only the very rich and the very poor. The majority of Christians came from the very poor and this is what Jesus was talking about when he described how difficult it is for a rich man to get to heaven (see Luke 18:18-30). He is talking, here, to those that do not know Jesus but are very rich in worldly possessions. It is easy for us to say that we are not rich but, if you are reading this, you probably are rich. If you have food, clothing, and a place to sleep, then, you are richer than 75% of the people on the planet! If you have any money, then you are in the top 92% of rich people in the world!
Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
James explains what he meant by misery is coming. We see that these people put their hope in wealth and material possessions. Not only are they not going to have the things forever but the things are going to show what truly mattered to them. Jesus spoke about the same thing (see Matthew 6:19-21) and told us to store up treasures in heaven instead of treasures on earth.
Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
Not only were these people hoarding wealth but they were getting it by stealing from the poor. It might be easy for us to say that we don't do that or we don't have harvesters to pay but, when a fair wage is not paid for the work that someone performs for you, you are stealing from them. The cries of these people reach God and He takes notes.
You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
James continues to describe what the rich people were doing and he turns to the issue of charity. He tells them that they have lived comfortably on earth while others were suffering and they will be held accountable. An example of this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The same thing applies to us today as God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
James goes on to explain that this hoarding of wealth has caused the death of innocent people. By not sharing with those in need, many are dying of hunger and disease. We also miss opportunities to tell them about Jesus which is the reason that we share with them.
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.
James now turns to the Christians to give them encouragement. We must remember that, at this time, most of the Christians were from the very poor class and so they would have seen the rich people (most of which did not know Jesus) prospering while they were not. It is easy to start grumbling against God (just like the Israelites did in Malachi 3) but James is reminding them and us to be patient. He uses the example of a farmer who has to wait for the proper season of harvest. You don't plant a seed in the ground and then get mad because you don't have a plant with vegetables on it the next day.
Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
James urges us to get along as brothers and sisters and warns that we will be judged for fighting and complaining. It seems that many Christians spend more time complaining about other Christians than they do talking to the lost. James reminds us that, as Christians, we have more important things to do than complaining.
Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
James reminds us of the Old Testament prophets. Most of them delivered a message from God that was not immediately accepted and some delivered a message that was never accepted. They demonstrated patience in spite of ridicule and persecution as they waited for the words of God to come to pass. We can be encouraged by the fact that God's words will happen but it may not be as fast as we desire.
As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
James reminds us of the example of Job in the Old Testament. He was a man who had everything but lost it. He held onto God even in the deepest of valleys and in the end God gave him more than he had before. God cares about each and every one of us and the situations we are in. He is not some dictator sitting back just waiting for us to mess up so that He can beat us down. He feels the heartache that we have but He also knows that the struggles serve to grow us closer to Him. For more the role of trials in our Christian walk, you can check out our study of Nehemiah 3.
Above all, my brothers, do not swear - not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your 'Yes' be yes, and your 'No,' no, or you will be condemned.
James reminds us here again that we are not to brag because that is a sign of arrogance. We do not own anything or control anything and therefore we do not have the right to swear by anything.
Is any of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.
James begins the closing of his letter by reminding us of the basics of our faith. If we need help, we can turn to the Creator of the universe who owns everything and sustains everything. He can handle anything we face. We are also to remember to praise God with song. God, our Father, wants to be an active part of our lives and these things are just a natural part of that relationship.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
Got sickness? James reminds us of God's prescription for healing. There are many who have said that they have done this and not been healed. They ask why and the sad fact of the matter is that many who are "elders" are not qualified to be so. The apostle Peter explained how and why people are called to be elders (in 1 Peter 5:1-4). In Matthew 17:14-21, we see where some of Jesus' disciples could not do this and we see Jesus' answer when they asked why they could not. The simple fact of the matter is that God's Word says that elders can and should do this so, if they cannot, they are not empowered for the office and need to seek God's face for answers.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
This verse tells us that the prayer offered by the elders in faith will make the sick person well. It does not say maybe or to do anything else and the faith is that of the elders and not the one to be healed. There have been those who blame their inability to provide healing on the lack of faith of the sick but as we see here the faith that brings the healing is the faith of the ones doing the praying. The Lord will answer their prayers and the sick person will be healed and even sins will be forgiven.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
This verse reminds us of the need to admit our sins and not try to hide them. If we confess them and ask for forgiveness through prayer, we will be healed.
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
James gives us an example here, from 1 Kings 17 & 18, of how the prayers of a righteous man are answered. James reminds us that Elijah was a regular man like us and so we can have the same effectiveness in our prayers.
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
My friends, this is our purpose here on earth today. We are to share the truth of God's Word so that people can turn away from their sin and be saved. When we do this, we demonstrate God's love and love covers sin just as God's love covered our sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.